Madrid, the capital of Spain, is a cosmopolitan city which combines modern infrastructure and its status as an economic, financial, government, and service centre, with its vast cultural and artistic heritage, accrued over centuries of thrilling history.
Strategically situated in the geographical centre of the Iberian Peninsula, 646 metres above sea level, Madrid has preserved one of the most important historic centres among the great European cities; and it has blended it seamlessly with modern, comfortable infrastructures, to offer a complete range of accommodation and services, as well as the latest technology in audiovisual aids and communication. These features, when added to the impetus of being a dynamic and open city, as well as cheerful and welcoming, have made this city one of the great capital cities of the Western world.
Populated since the lower palaeolithic age, it wasn't until 1561 that King Felipe II made Madrid the capital city of his vast Empire. The historical centre, also known as "Madrid of the Austrians", and the impressive Plaza Mayor, opened in 1620 and one of most popular and typical parts of Spain, are proof of the rising splendour of the city during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Near the Plaza Mayor one can find the so-called "aristocratic centre", featuring the Royal Palace, a monumental construction of the 17th century, a mixture baroque and classical styles. Next to it, one finds the Plaza de Oriente, the Opera theatre, and the modern Almudena Cathedral, consecrated in 1993 by Pope John Paul II. The Puerta del Sol, surrounded by a varied and select shopping area, and the "Paseo del Arte", so called for its incomparable museums, palaces, and gardens, rounds up this iconic ensemble, also featuring the Bank of Spain, the Telecommunication Palace, and the fountains of Cibeles and Neptuno.
Art and culture hold a special place in the life of Madrid. The capital city has over 60 museums which comprise all of human knowledge. Highlights include the Prado Museum, one of the most important galleries in the world; the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, with over 800 paintings ranging from primitive flamenco art to avant-garde movements. Also, the Reina Sofía National Art Centre, dedicated to contemporary Spanish art, featuring work from Picasso, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Juan Gris, among others.
Large, cared-for parks and gardens such as the Parque del Retiro, where Spanish kings used to relax, Casa de Campo, Parque Juan Carlos I, allow one to enjoy the sunshine, walk around, row in their ponds, or feed the squirrels in one of Europe's greenest capital cities. Added to this, Madrid's international airport, which sees over a thousand flights arrive from all over the world, its two Houses of Congress, the modern Campo de las Naciones exhibition centre, and over 80,000 seats in other centres make Madrid one of Europe's most attractive business centres.
But if there is one thing that characterises Madrid, it's a contagious enthusiasm for life which is reflected in the friendliness of its people. Concerts, expositions, ballets, select theatre productions, the latest cinema releases, tasting a wide sample of the best of Spanish and international cuisine, experiencing the enchantment of its bars and taverns, are some of Madrid's leisure offerings. This in addition to the different shopping options available both in more traditional outlets and in the more modern establishments which stock the latest international designer labels.
The lively Madrid nightlife is also an important attraction in this Spanish city, due to the variety and atmosphere of its bars, nightclubs, and flamenco tablaos, which can be exchanged during the day for traditional fairs, popular festivals, or the San Isidro bullfighting festival, which is considered the most important one in the world.